Lunchtime Tournaments Increase Interest and Ownership

For Middle Level

To help keep recess fresh, lively, and engaging at Harrisburg Academy, we called on the student council to run organized lunchtime sports tournaments during recess. Because recess is as much a part of our daily routine as a core subject class, we felt students needed some recess "curriculum" to help guide their activities. Including student council in the planning, running, and assessing of events not only involves the students and their ideas but also helps with sharing the work load. They have truly taken ownership, and the interest level among a wide variety of kids is high. On their own, teams have created team names (the "Loud Whooping Birds," the "Bean Monkeys," etc.) logos, t-shirts, team slogans, and cheers.

Steps for successful tournament play

  1. Students brainstorm what sports or activities they would like to have. This can take place in a student council meeting, advisory meeting, or through an idea box.
  2. Match the sport and schedule with the available facilities.
  3. Finalize these initial plans with the student council.
  4. Identify responsibilities for student-council members. Specific jobs for students or small student groups may include:
    • Coordination of student/team sign-ups
    • Event management, including field or gym preparation and referee coordination
  5. Finalize rules for team eligibility and tournament play, start date, and decide if there will be some type of prize for the winners. We discuss fair team composition at this point.
  6. Announce the tournament to all students.
  7. Students submit individual names or team names for participation. Team composition must be relatively fair, distributing stronger players with care. If the tournament limits the use of the gym with regard to regular recess play, we let the students know prior to sign-ups; if they do not sign up for a team, they will be spectators.
  8. Adults and students finalize teams and resolve any equity issues together.
  9. Post round-robin schedule in a common area. In a round-robin tournament, each participant plays every other participant an equal number of times. For example, in a single round-robin schedule, each participant plays every other participant once. It can be a little complicated to lay out; here is a visual device for an 8-team single round-robin:

Let the games begin!

Note: non-athletic tournaments such as chess or math can be run simultaneously depending on the number of students and student interest.

Tom Banks is Principal at Harrisburg Academy in Harrisburg PA.

This article first appeared in the Origins' publication Developmental Designs: A Middle School Newsletter, Fall 2008